On July 7, FMCSA issued technical corrections and amendments to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations. While most of these changes were minor, one will significantly impact the enforcement operations. FMCSA removed the word “on-site” from the definition of Compliance Review. This change was made due to the operational shift that occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic, in recognition of the technological advances that allow the compliance review to be conducted remotely and the ability of investigators to evaluate the same safety performance metrics.
In looking at the review activity, the number of off-site reviews increased substantially, from 1,013 in all of 2019, to 5,058 in 2020, and 3,753 thus far in 2021 (through June 25). This change provides the agency and the states with more “oversight” and presence over the industry. With a 400% increase in off-site investigations from 2019 to 2020, and the 2021 volume increasing over 2020, clearly the agency sees this as a model that is working and plans to continue. But are they realizing the benefit? While the number of total reviews has remained relatively static, total number resulting in Acute violations dropped by 43.8%, and the number of reviews with critical violations dropped by 33%, while the total number of violations decreased only by 8.7%. Either industry compliance is improving or discovering critical and acute violations is more difficult when investigating remotely.
Will an increase in less effective compliance reviews improve safety? STC thinks yes. Remember when FMCSA introduced the warning letter as part of CSA? After receiving warning letters, the large majority of carriers took corrective action to resolve identified safety problems. While there certainly are some bad actors out there, we believe most carriers want to do things the right way, some just need a bit more of a nudge than others.